February 13, 2009

Volleyball Training Styles

Dear Coach,

I really enjoy your site and find it very interesting. Thanks for all the work you do on it.

My question is: What is a typical practice like for your teams? Is there something(s) you focus on every single day? Do you do all drills? A lot of scrimmaging? A little of both?

The reason I ask is I coached as an assistant at the varsity level in high school this past fall and we did half drills and half competition/scrimmage stuff and we were very successful. The school made it the farthest in their history. I now coach club and all we do are drills, drills, and more drills without ever really seeing my kids compete in each rotation until we get to tournaments. My current club kids are very frustrated with all the drills and would like to get the competitive juices flowing more with some scrimmages, but I play it by the book and run what the club director has given me. Honestly I don't feel like much of a coach when I am given a practice schedule and don't have any real say in what I run.

I guess maybe this isn't really a college volleyball question but I was curious to know what you think of this. I just wondered what you did and if that would change if you were doing high school age coaching. I know you are super busy and if you don't have time to respond that is fine.

Thanks, Jason

Thanks for the question Jason and I am glad you like the site; never to busy to respond (until camp season!). You have asked a very good question and one that took me some time to figure out as it pertains to my own training styles.

It is my impression that there are two competing styles of volleyball training systems in women's college volleyball - the Asian style and the Latin style. Please allow me to explain my interpretation of each style.

The Asian style, as best illustrated by Japan and China, tends to be typified by drill orientated practices which emphasize technique and improving abilities through maximum repetitions in a very controlled environment.

The Latin style, which Brazil and Cuba have excelled with, relies on scrimmage situations to improve player's skills. The variables of competition, combined with emotional energy, raise the abilities of the players.

With volleyball in the USA, as demonstrated by college volleyball, we tend to vacillate between these two styles of volleyball. In the late 60's to 70's, Japan was a dominant power in volleyball and players were adapting Asian techniques (underhand pass and diving) to improve; come the 80's into the 90's, the Cuba and Brazil were very good and the pendulum swung towards using
'wash drills' and scoring games by college programs; our current period of training has seen the Asian style re-assert itself with our Women's National team being coached by a Japanese and Chinese coach, along with the Chinese Women's Olympic team success, thus the focus comes back to this style (individual technique, group work targeting very specific areas to improve in controlled situations).

By and large, my early coaching career consisted of practices which supported the Latin style of volleyball - scrimmages and wash drills. For a time, I swung over toward the Asian style rather heavily to focus on individual and positional skills. Now, I tend to run a hybrid situation depending on the current status of my team.

What I like about the Latin style is it improves abilities under competition and can develop a killer instinct, since practices have competitive situations (does a player really want to win or not?). What I like about the Asian style, is that it targets the improvement of specific areas of player/group skills which may be a weakness of your program; it also tends to have a lower injury rate because I have found most of my 'practice' injuries have happened under scrimmage situations.

What I don't like about the Latin style is players tend to stick to their comfort zone of skills - they don't take chances to improve because it is a competitive situation. What I don't like about the Asian style is that players can find a certain false sense of confidence when they are in controlled, structured volleyball situations that will not exist during matches.

In terms of how I prepare, it varies depending upon the specific situation(s) of my team. Yet, if I had to quantify how much of each style I employ on average, I would feel a 70% Asian style to 30% Latin style would be accurate. I believe the Asian style tends to be more effective at improving specific weaknesses of a player/team. I use just enough of the Latin style, so the players don't get tired of just doing drills.

Specific situations where I may shift my percentages:
  • If I have a smaller roster, either by injury or recruiting oddities, then I tend to increase my Asian style of training. This greatly reduces injury and allows for quick effective training of a smaller group.
  • If I have a new setter, early in the season, I will increase the Latin style so the setter can 'see' how each rotation will look and become comfortable with the many side out and transition opportunities.
  • If we are in a heavy competition schedule, I will increase the Asian style because playing too much in practice, can lead to being flat in matches.
At the high school level, most coaches tend to be more comfortable with the Latin style because it is easy to just scrimmage and the Asian style can be difficult if a coach is not comfortable or precise in implementing balls for a drill.

Since I am comfortable handling a ball and have found success with a certain mix, I would coach high school age players the same (Junior and Senior age group). If I were working with Sophomores and younger, I would shift more towards the Asian style a bit because skill training during the 11 to 14 age range is just huge for future volleyball success.

Club coaches tend to be more adept at the Asian style and I think this has to do with being a bit more experienced and the efforts of USA Volleyball to promote a certain training philosophy to junior coaches.

By your question, I would think your Club director is heavily influenced by the beliefs of USA Volleyball and their Junior Club training philosophies. Drill, drill, drill and play only in competitions is very Asian style in its regimen. This well may be the advertised Club philosophy and you could be stuck.

If it is not something you are comfortable with, then come next season, I would explore a position with a Club team that does match your training beliefs.

Good Luck!